The Indian Fire - Prescott, AZ

Robert M. Winston reports on ways in which training, interagency cooperation and courage prevented a catastrophe.


Wednesday, May 15, was a sunny, warm and breezy day in the Prescott, AZ, area. The fire danger rating was at the top of the scale and registered as "extreme." All of the area's emergency service agencies were poised and ready for "the big one." Today would be THE day. Photo by...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

Wednesday, May 15, was a sunny, warm and breezy day in the Prescott, AZ, area. The fire danger rating was at the top of the scale and registered as "extreme." All of the area's emergency service agencies were poised and ready for "the big one." Today would be THE day.

7_02_indian1.jpg
Photo by Robert M. Winston
Firefighters are at the structures as the firefront slams into the Cathedral Pines subdivision.

It was about 2:30 P.M. and Duane Steinbrink, Prescott Fire's fuels management officer, and I were attending to our duties at Prescott Fire Department (PFD) Station 72/PFD Headquarters when we heard an unusual message coming over the fire frequency radio. PFD Captain Tim Sheehan, in Engine 72, was reporting a column of smoke south of Prescott Center. At about the same time, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Engine 3-0 Captain Todd Rhines, located at PFD Station 71, was also reporting a column of smoke to his dispatcher at the USFS Fire Center. The 911 calls began to flood the communications office and both PFD and USFS fire crews were now enroute to what would become known as "The Indian Fire." The name of the fire came from the point of origin in the Indian Creek area of Prescott.

Steinbrink and I stepped outside of Station 72 and observed a light column of smoke about three miles away. We started for it. Within 30 minutes, the column had changed dramatically to a heavy, dark-colored plume as the Indian Fire grew to over 100 acres and began to crown out in the Ponderosa pines of the Prescott National Forest (PNF).

The Firefight Begins

Fire apparatus from the PFD, Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) and the USFS responded for an initial attack strategy. USFS Captain Todd Rhines arrived and took command as the incident commander. He gave his initial size-up report and ordered additional resources. Enroute were Division Chief Tony Sciacca, the PNF west sector district ranger; PFD Chief Darrell Willis; PFD Deputy Chief Paul Laipple; PFD Battalion-1 Chief Brad Malm; and CYFD Chief David Curtis and Fire Marshal Charlie Cook and their BC-3.

7_02_indian2.jpg
Photo by Robert M. Winston
A total of five structures and two out buildings were ignited at the Cathedral Pines subdivision. Many other homes were directly threatened and were successfully protected during structure triage and protection operations.

Air tankers, helitack and the Prescott Interagency Hotshot crews were ordered to the incident. The fire, being pushed by strong winds and fueled by tinder-dry forest fuels, spread with extreme speed toward Highway 89. The Ponderosa Pines subdivision was directly threatened and many of its residents, who were in town or at work, began to drive into the fire area, some in a state of near panic. Traffic control and evacuation were becoming a safety challenge.

As the local and federal fire commanders arrived on scene, the incident was transitioned from Rhines to Sciacca. Additional resources, fire commanders, and support personnel from area fire and emergency agencies began to arrive at the hastily established command post at the Indian Creek Campgrounds. Reconnaissance missions and ongoing size-ups were made.

According to a long-standing pre-plan of attack, critical sector/division assignments were rapidly established. A structure protection group was initiated. Evacuation plans were assigned and implemented. Planning was well orchestrated with no confusion at a time of intense fire activity when lives and homes were severely threatened.

7_02_indian3.jpg
Photo by Robert M. Winston
Firefighters from the Prescott Fire Department and the Central Yavapai Fire District quickly gather to map out a plan for structure protection in the Cathedral Pines subdivision.

"We had a written plan and we drilled on that plan for about 12 years," Willis said. "Interagency cooperation was incredible and the plan was executed just as we had trained on it."

This content continues onto the next page...